To elicit from Ecclesiastes (2)

[Find part 1 here.]

Can we who live now really connect with, and gain from, ancient-yet-timeless wisdom?  Ecclesiastes says it’s “not from wisdom” that we long for the former days.  In further contemplation of this ancient “wisdom literature,” another “contemporary” song comes to mind.  The song “That’s What Matters” on Rebecca St. James’s 1996 album “God” is of particular note since it originated with one so young.  Wisdom must not be entirely gained with age:  I think RSJ was barely 20 when she co-wrote and belted the words, “Don’t wait for a better day.  Be glad, and use the one you’re in.”  That is not only musically punchy but also spiritually and emotionally wise, and I ought to heed it.  Peter, Paul, & Mary asked, “Where have all the flowers gone?” and I presume they were commenting on the ubiquity of war more than yearning for generally halcyon days.  Regardless, when we recognize that things are not looking good right now, it probably doesn’t serve to spend much time either in the future or in the past.

The conclusion of Ecclesiastes, basically filling chapter 12, exhorts us to “remember the Creator”—to Whom the spirit returns when all is said and done in this life.  “Fear God and keep His commandments,” and that is about the size of it all, says the Teacher.

Here are some (non-copyrighted, I might mention) quotations from Jon Collins’s article in the periodical from The Bible Project, mentioned in part 1):

“Ecclesiastes can feel like nihilism—like nothing really matters—but, surprisingly, it doesn’t end there. Throughout the book, the teacher pauses to draw the conclusion that even though life is smoke, we still need to live it in a way where we can find joy…. Just because we do the right thing, it doesn’t mean that life will work out…

“… The hope at the end of all this is that one day God will clear away all the smoke and life will be as it is meant to be….

” Ecclesiastes is a reminder that even the best life comes with bangs and bruises, disappointments and depression.  Life can be well lived, but it can’t be controlled.”

I cannot control life in general; neither can I control others’ behavior—or its consequences in this life or the next.  What happens to others ultimately must not be my concern.  Here I recall the old³ Stamps-Baxter song “Tempted and Tried.”  I learned a regurgitatory distaste for the song as a child, but in recent years, more of it has begun to resonate for me.  “We’re oft made to wonder why . . . while there are others living about us, never molested tho’ in the wrong.”  I may not understand it “all by and by,” and that will be okay ultimately, but it doesn’t seem so okay now.  If anyone says, “Cheer up, my brother” to me, all twangy-like, I might just issue a tangy rejoinder, but there are two major truths for me here, stemming from the song and from Ecclesiastes:

  1. Things happen that don’t seem fair or make sense in this life.
  2. I can’t control that.

Collins spotlights the paradox between Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, noting that the axioms of Proverbs can seem to be contradicted by the philosophy of Ecclesiastes.  In sum, Proverbs seems to give wisdom maxims, asserting that if one does X, then Y will result.  “All hard work brings a profit,” for instance (14:23).  Ecclesiastes then presents another side of the coin, more or less acknowledging that things don’t always work out like the Proverbs suggest.  “Time and chance happen to them all” (Eccl 9:11).  Subordinate to God’s eternal purpose, some arbitrariness seems to be part of the cosmos.  Here I feel like getting the attention of all those who feel wise or helpful when they remark, “I believe everything happens for a reason.”  (Would my objection be “happening for a reason” in their minds?)  Nope.  Not everything.  In this life, some things just happen.

Leaving Proverbs in the dust again, it seems to me that more similarities exist between Ecclesiastes and Job, in terms of the ultimate import.  We are left, in both these cases, with this resounding message:  what’s left, when all is said and done, is God.  We are not Him, and we should fear/revere Him in awe.  Philosopher Slavoj Žižek offered, “The only thing we have to fear is fear of the dialectical misappropriation of counterrevolutionary bourgeois socio-antidisestablishmentarianism itself.”  Perhaps—in this life, at least.  But I’ll opt to pay more attention to the Teacher of Ecclesiastes.  Collins’s conclusion will serve as mine here:

“The answer to fear is to know what to truly fear.  There is only one thing in the universe worth fearing, and that is the creator of the universe.  And surprisingly, when you let that be your chief fear, you will find a life where fear loses its power.  A life without chaos is impossible, but a life connected to divine wisdom is a good life and a life that can be lived without fear.”


³ The song is less than a century old, which is not very old, all considering!

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To elicit from Ecclesiastes (1)

I’ve been feeling the need for wisdom, so I naturally thought of the so-called wisdom literature of Hebrew scripture.  I’ve never been much of a fan of Proverbs (don’t laugh), so I bypassed that collection.  The other main canonical wisdom works—Job and Ecclesiastes¹—are more to my taste.  Now, I had just received a quarterly periodical from The Bible Project,² and the particular issue happened to be devoted to wisdom literature.  I gleaned some very good things from the periodical, and I’ll come back to a few of those.

A couple Saturdays ago, I spent a couple hours reading Ecclesiastes in a new-to-me version, The Voice.  This Bible had me hooked with the first line of the editors’ introduction:  “One of the most enigmatic books of the Old Testament, . . .”  Then “the teacher” of Ecclesiastes itself drew me in much further.  At the end of chapter 2, I was overwhelmed by the mounting up of all the things it’s possible to be enthused over.  No surprise if you’ve read it before, but no possibility turns out to be a lasting one!

Chapter 5 offers, “It is better to quietly reverence God” (5:2 and 5:8).  After trying to ignore the split infinitive, I thought of the proliferation of words in the worship music industry, which displays anything but quiet reverence.  Some contemporary worship leaders just won’t shut up.  (I have been one of those.)  I thought, too, of Matt and Beth Redman’s song “Let My Words Be Few.”  The song is not in my top 150—I never prefer such expressions as “in love with you” when referring to adoration of deity—but the song did come to mind since it stresses sparing words as we stand in awe.  You can listen here to Phillips, Craig & Dean’s version if you have the time—overlooking, of course, the irony of the fact that the “few words” message is carried by words!

Back to Ecclesiastes.  Chapter 6 mentions that it is better to have been stillborn (“an untimely birth” in the RSV, and a “miscarriage” in the NASB) than to live without the soul’s satisfaction.  The “study note” comment in The Voice version seeks to divert attention from the starkness of this “wisdom,” but I rather think the editors might be embarrassed at part of the philosophy here.  “Believers pray for a good life for all of God’s creatures,” they assert, as they amplify the comparison between (1) one who doesn’t find good in this life and (2) a child who never draws breath.  That does seem to be an emphasis of Ecclesiastes.  Still, I think it is wise to hold onto eternal values while attaining to the worldview of the Teacher.  When he says something so patently unpalatable as “it is better if it had been a miscarried birth,” it might be poetic hyperbole, but it also might bear the wisdom of a focus on the eternal life over the here-and-now.

Tomorrow:  part 2


¹ Some wisdom literature may be found in various Psalms.  My mother encouraged me to read Psalm 30 recently, for instance, and there was wisdom there for me.  The Song of Songs is classed here, as well, but I would say the category has then been morphed to “poetry,” not “wisdom.”  Among the influential wisdeom writings, we shouldn’t discount some of the “apocryphal” writings such as Wisdom of Solomon and Sirach.  These books were included in the Septuagint, which was the Greek version of the “Old Testament” in wide use around the time of Jesus.

² Editors-teachers Tim Mackie and Jon Collins of TBP have a “unified and linear” motif in their videos, believing that the Bible is a “unified story that points to Jesus.”  Personally, I am cautious about both the “unified” and the “linear” ideas, although there are clearly unifying elements and themes among the various documents, and although I certainly believe Jesus is central in human and redemptive history.  I don’t think these concerns play into the content of this issue of the periodical—or of this post on wisdom literature.

Technology and Millennials

Within the context of a finance/banking and technology perspective, a new friend cites industry authorities.  With good statistical reasons, he believes that Millennials

  • prefer phone apps over traditional banking with “tellers”
  • trust “FinTech” companies over banks for most consumer-oriented financial purposes

I’m sure my friend is right, yet I question the wisdom, scope, and longevity of some of the enterprises in which Millennials are apparently placing their trust.  My ruminations have continued about generational technology preferences and general inclinations.  I don’t keep in mind the year-boundaries that are used to delineate between the “Baby Boom” and “GenX” and “GenY”/Millennial generational groupings, so I get foggy, but of this I am sure:  there will always be exceptions within the groups.

Based on age, my friend would be classed as a Millennial, but he is thoughtful and intelligent, a unique set of experiences in the world, so I imagine that he would be somewhat an exception himself, defying any label “Millennial” at points.

As for myself, sometimes, I am kind of an “old soul” who harks back to the values of minds and spirits of the long-ago past.  In some respects, I share the opinions and worldviews of those 5-10 years older than I, or even of my parents’ generation.  In other spheres, I am an impatient whippersnapper who wants desperately to move past silly traditions and pointless machinations.  In all, I long for substance and actual value over form.  Perhaps I am a quasi-postmodernist-1/3-Boomer-1/3-GenXer with a few GenY traits (who experiences deep angst about being labeled at all).

It’s no surprise that Millennials will gravitate to phone apps.  As for me, I see the apps’ shortcomings and inefficiencies, as compared to desktop computers and even in-person banking.  Are all Millennials so oriented?  I must admit that I wonder about those individuals who don’t own printed Bibles and who never see more than a tiny screen’s worth of scripture text at a time.  Yes, I use a Bible phone app, and I greatly appreciate its capabilities.  I like running Bible software on my computer even more, because it allows me to see more and to use it in other dimensions and formats.  It simply must be admitted that seeing only 3-4 verses at a time on a tiny phone screen will have ramifications, including limiting one’s contextual awareness.

I also wonder frequently about the interpersonal connectedness of anyone—Millennial or otherwise—

  • whose neck and hand are permanently locked into the look-at-my phone position
  • whose quick first impulse is to go to the mobile device for answers

Could it be that non-high-tech sources are better for some things in life?

I remember two very fine students who were the only two (that I knew) without their own cell phones.  I remember each of the students as very having very strong character, and as being spiritually sensitive, service-oriented people.  One was particularly focused and engaged as a student, and they were both dedicated to their studies and to people.  I can see each of their faces as if it were yesterday, and it has been five years since I last saw them.

Now, I would strongly suspect each of those students has one or more mobile devices at this point, but my point is that those Millennials were really okay without devices then.  I’d say their whole selves were at the time wonderfully unfettered by phonedom, and they were none the worse for it.  Quite possibly, they were better off, not having all the technologies their peers had.

In the next post I’ll deal with technology in instruction, touching on “distance learning.”

Spot-on advice

Recently published interpretive advice from Dr. Suzanne Nicholson is golden.  I can’t resist extracting bits and phrases for those who may not click the link below.

“Words have different meanings in different contexts”

“looking at the text closely and seeing what is really there”

“not to read 2,000 years of Christian theology into the passage”

“How does the structure highlight the meaning?”

“how does a single passage reinforce the themes of the book?”

“don’t jump straight to application”

The entire post is brief.  Go ahead and read the whole thing.  It will take all of one minute.

Suzanne Nicholson (Malone University) on “What Makes a Good Biblical Scholar or Theologian?”

A birthday of sorts

I’m not much on birthdays (or any holidays, for that matter).  I do remember the birthdays of all those in my family of origin, of three of my grandparents, and of my own, little nuclear family.  That’s about where it ends.  I only know birthdays for one niece, one nephew, one aunt, so I probably ought to be embarrassed that I do remember the birthday of my childhood baseball hero every year.  That guy is a year younger than my father, but let’s just say Dad’s character and life patterns are infinitely more admirable than the former Major Leaguer’s.  I have once again not mentioned the baseball player’s name on his birthday, because I don’t want to call any more attention to him.

April 30, though, is a birthday anniversary of something I will call attention to:  the initial invitation for Eugene Peterson to write The Message. 

Portions of The Message were published serially for a period of about ten years, starting in 1993, and I intentionally purchased each new volume until the whole was at last published in 2002.  It was difficult for me to divest myself of the separate volumes such as The Pentateuch and The Prophets, but it didn’t make sense to keep them all.  I now have only a complete hardback edition, a separate hardback copy of The Wisdom Books, a paperback Psalms, and a full electronic, versified edition.

Speaking of “versification,” one helpful-yet-annoying feature of the original work is that it does not contain traditional “verses.”  I say “helpful” because not having those little numbers can guard against the breaking up of thoughts as one reads longer passages.  I say “annoying” because the lack of verse numbers makes it difficult to find a particular spot and to compare with other versions.  There is a place for both, so I’m glad to have non-versified editions in print but also glad that my Logos software contains a versified version for easier pinpoint access.

I could not presume to add what so many others have said in praise of the translation, and I don’t care to expend effort refuting or responding to its judgmental detractors.  (No translation is above criticism, and I’d rather be more granular in my approach to this one and all others.)  Rather, I just want to recognize this milestone.  Here, I’ll allow Peterson’s own introductory words to speak for themselves.  He tells of the time in which the seed of The Message took root:

     I lived in two language worlds, the world of the Bible in the world of Today.  I had always assumed they were the same world.  But these people didn’t see it that way.  So out of necessity I became a “translator,” . . . daily standing on the border between two worlds, getting the language of the Bible that God uses to create and save us, heal and bless us, judge and rule over us, into the language of Today that we use to gossip and tell stories, give directions and do business, sings songs and talk to our children.
     And all the time those old Biblical languages, those powerful and vivid Hebrew and Greek originals, kept working their way underground in my speech, giving energy and sharpness to words and phrases, expanding the imagination of the people with whom I was working to hear the language of the Bible in the language of Today and the language of Today in the language of the Bible. . . .
     The Message is a reading Bible.  It is not intended to replace the excellent study Bibles that are available.  My intent here . . . is simply to get people reading who don’t know that the Bible is read-able at all, at least by them, and to get people who long ago lost interest in the Bible to read it again. . .  So at some point along the way, soon or late, it will be important to get a standard study Bible to facilitate further study.  Meanwhile, read in order to live, praying as you read, “God, let it be with me just as you say.”

– Eugene Peterson, Preface to The Message, 2002, © Eugene Peterson, published by NavPress

Now, especially if you have never read from The Message, you might try it once in a while.  Try it for a change.  Try it for a perk.  Try it for a comparison.  Try reading long passages.  You might be surprised at how quickly one of Paul’s letters goes, or how marvelously new one of the gospels or the books of Hebrew history sounds.  Whether or not you get into The Message, read, consider, and study the message by any helpful means.

Happy creative birthday to Eugene Peterson for his distinctive accomplishment in The Message, with thanks to the editor who wrote the invitation letter received more than a quarter-century ago on April 30, 1990.  No translation is perfect, but this one went a long way in making scripture come alive for readers.


For more Bible Anniversary reading . . . another translation of note, now more than four hundred years old, celebrated a birthday in 2011.  The KJV was a massive achievement in its time and was deserving of celebration and praise for 200-300 hundred years, I figure.  Read my anniversary farewell wishes to the Authorized Version (KJV) here.

More than a few quotations (#1400)

1400I realized only a couple of weeks ago that I was approaching post No. 1400¹ on this blog.  One hundred times double the “perfection” number is a nice number, but the sentiments and studies here have been anything but perfect.  I’d like to use this particular milestone post (see below² for other milestones) to share some fine work from other writers I’ve come in contact with recently.  Many of the passages below bear words and thoughts that 1) poetically are my envy and 2) spiritually speak of some of my elusive, unattainable, guiding stars.  I will appeal to many of these again.

Please be inspired . . . or motivated . . . or challenged . . . as you wish.

Of Following the King

Could it be that one’s real duty is not to find the one true highway, but rather to be a certain kind of person—humble, attentive, and obedient—whatever the path one is on?  If “The Way” be in us, John Bunyan once said, then we will always be in The Way, wherever we travel.  – Darryl Tippens, Pilgrim Heart

When “everyone was a Christian,” the means by which “everyone” became a “Christian” was infant baptism….  This practice stood at the heart of the full flowering of the Constantinian church…. For the Anabaptists, baptism represented the point of entrance into a community of faith that had “been taught repentance and the amendment of life.”  Baptism must not serve as a empty symbol of entry into a state-run church; baptism epitomized discipleship, and infant baptism cut out the very heart of the New Testament vision of the practice.  Instead of baptizing culture and calling it ”Christian,” the Anabaptists desired that the church baptize those whose sought to walk in the way of Jesus…. “Faith” required, enabled, and freed one to walk in the way of Christ; baptism without discipleship was thus not Christian baptism.  – Lee Camp, Mere Discipleship, 137-139 (citing also the Schleitheim Confession of the 16th century)

It appears to me, comparing my experience with that of many friends, that once one has seriously enlisted on the side of God and his purpose, considerable spiritual opposition is provoked and encountered. . . .  Should they once begin to embark on real living and to assist in building the Kingdom of God, then the attack begins!  – J.B. Phillips, For This Day (emphasis Phillips’s)

Underneath “the end justifies the means” logic lies the assumption that the way of Christ is simply not a relevant social ethic … society will fall apart, will sink into a spiral of unmitigated violence. … Jesus could not have meant that we take him seriously in the realm of social and political realities—after all, what would happen if everybody did that?!  . . .

Can those who claim Jesus to be divine grant so little authority to this One who showed us what it means to live a human life in accordance with the will of God?  “Hey, be realistic, none of us are Jesus!” it is objected.  But do such objections not overlook the New Testament claim that the people of God, the “body of Christ,” continue the ministry and work of Christ right in the midst of real human history, right in the midst of oppression, injustice, violence, and greed? – Lee Camp, Mere Discipleship, 34, 39 (emphasis Camp’s)

Disciples are called to be peacemakers.  This, however, does not necessarily mean passive disengagement from the world around us.  Our example is our Father who loved the world and gave His Son for it.  This is radical engagement….  -John Mark Hicks and Bobby Valentine, Kingdom Come

[A German woman, in reflection on Hitlerian Germany:]  “Don’t you Americans always think that your wars are just?”  Such anecdotes point us to a historical reality:  a lazy use of the just war tradition most often provides rationalization for Christians killing their alleged enemies.   – Lee Camp, Mere Discipleship, 129 (emphasis Camp’s)

Claiming Jesus as Lord results in a particular manner of life, for which Jesus is the authority. – Lee Camp, Mere Discipleship, 125

Of the Kingdom

My kingdom is not from this world.  If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews.  But as it is, my kingdom is not from here. – Jesus (John 18, NRSV)

The idea of the Kingdom of God, the sovereignty of God, was a conception which was central and basic to the message of Jesus.  He emerged on men with the message that the Kingdom was at hand (Matt 4:17; Mark 1:15).  To preach the Kingdom was an obligation that was laid upon him (Luke 4:43).  It was with the message of the Kingdom that he went through the towns and villages of Galilee (Luke 8:1).  The announcement of the Kingdom was the central element in the teaching of Jesus. . . .   To do the will of God and to be in the Kingdom of God are one and the same thing. – William Barclay, The Mind of Jesus

When Jesus said (Luke 17:20-21) that the Kingdom doesn’t come with observation—that the Kingdom of God is “within” he wasn’t denying external things, he was emphasizing internal things. . . .  What exactly is Christ saying in this verse?  He’s telling us that the reign of God is peculiar. It’s built on self-surrender. – Jim McGuiggan, The Reign of God

What did Jesus talk about after his resurrection?  He appeared to his followers “over a period of forty days and spoke about the Kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3).  This was his subject matter.  – Howard Snyder, Community of the King

Of Worshipping the King

Worship is keeping open the vital connections between man and the source of his spiritual life.  Worship is the road over which the prodigal travels from the wastelands of sin to the Father’s house of plenty.  It is the wire which connects the Christian with the Dynamo of energy and light, and it is the lifeline through which flows the water of life.  Worship is eating, eating bread at the table of God.   – Andy T. Ritchie, Jr., Thou Shalt Worship the Lord Thy God

Two facets of worship are often overlooked.  First and foremost, worship is a matter of allegiance: whom shall we deem worthy of glory, honor, and dominion? – Lee Camp, Mere Discipleship, 120


¹ For the record, a couple of the 1400 posts have been unintentional duplications, and if I were to read through them all now, I’d only be proud of 14% of them.

² Links to other milestone posts:

  • #1300a non-momentous sharing of quotes from C.S. Lewis
  • #1200—a chiastic meditation
  • #1000—John 9’s exegesis and blindness
  • #900—ponderings about God
  • #666—about Revelation (a post I’m not particularly proud of; I’d say things differently now)

Is it really unconditional?

John Free, in an article titled “Unconditional Love and Covenant Love:  A Comparison” (wpid-img_20151115_154219_379.jpgLeaven, III:4, 1995) has pointed out that never does a canonical scriptural writer refer to God’s love as “unconditional.”  God’s love for humans flows despite our sin and so is generally without that condition, yet, on the contrary, Free compellingly paints God’s love as being character-based, rather than having any reference—positive or negative—to condition or status.

The love of God is, and remains, covenant love.  It is selective.  It is focused.  It endures.  It nurtures growth.  It is calculating and creative.  It is entirely beneficent.  It is disciplinary and corrective.  It is steadfast, eternal.  It is natural.  It is expressive of who God is.  It is consequential.  It is promissory.  And, it is conditional.

Covenant love is what a person experiences as he enters into relationship with God as God has ordained it.  Unconditional love is what a person experiences as he enters into relationship with God as humankind imagines it.

Free finds that the apparently young notion of “unconditional love” is more related to Carl Rogers’s¹ influential counseling theory than to biblical theology.

We do have a proclivity to leap to unwarranted assumptions about God, about scripture, about church, etc.  For instance, the “worship service” institution is not discussed in scripture as such, nor is God painted as “Trinity” per se.  The presumption of an “unconditional” quality of God’s love for you and me appears infinitely more significant than the other two presumptions.

I was drawn by John Free’s above depiction of God’s love, along with his cogent comparison of 1) unconditional love and 2) covenant, character-based love.


¹ One of Rogers’s three centerpieces for counseling practice was “respect; unconditional positive regard” for the counselee.

The scriptures related to Christianity

A few days ago, here, I probed the idea of a city’s being “Bible-minded.”  Just as much, I was questioning whether a survey can aptly represent anything that incorporates levels of depth like Bible knowledge/insight.

Certainly it is good to have basic scriptural knowledge, but Bloom’s well-known taxonomy propels us further:  factual knowledge is a base level of learning, and after that can arise comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation (in that order, says Bloom).

It’s all too easy for us to become mired at the “basic knowledge” level, and spiritual complacency can be the result.  In the hands of some, the scriptures can be inappropriately related to various off-base ideas:

  • anti-intellectualism, exclusivism, war, and other species and sub-species of intolerance
  • contemporary antisemitism and other breeds of prejudiced/racist hatred
  • pentecostalism and other kinds of excess or lacks of discernment
  • fundamentalism and other brands of baseless standards and misplaced pride

The title of today’s post might have struck you as odd.  I mean, of course the scriptures are related to Christianity . . . yet not always in the way some unthinking persons assume they are.Barton

The following quotations — quotations that manifest Bloom levels far above “knowledge,” I might note — are from People of the Book:  The Authority of the Bible in Christianity.  The author is John Barton of Oxford University, England, and he writes from a non-fundamentalist vantage point that seeks to understand scripture’s place aptly.  I affirm all the sayings below (but not necessarily everything in the book), and I’m particularly amused and invigorated by the last quote.

B. Casey, 4/9/15

On the “new” covenant:

The Christian gospel is not that a new God, never before known, has just been revealed in Jesus.  It is that the God who already is known has, nevertheless, just done something new and unprecedented — something which means nothing less than the remaking of the world. (p. 9)

On freedom:

Christians are people who have a book, in order to be able to proclaim their freedom from it; and the character of that freedom is deeply shaped by the book from which they have been freed, and He is the God who gave the book who also gives the freedom. (p. 9)

On authority:

. . . it is only in a loose sense that “the Bible” is Paul’s source of authority at all.  What matters to him is God’s action in Christ, as related to God’s previous actions or previous involvement with his people . . . (p. 25)

The value of the Lord’s own sayings for understanding and recognizing his divine authority does not depend on the fact that they appear in the pages of Christian holy books, but derives from the fact that Jesus actually said them. (p. 39) [emph. mine -bc]

For I believe that Christians exist principally in relation not to a text but to a person. (p. 58)

On evidence and atttestation:

. . . The Bible is not only evidence for events; it is also, and more obviously, evidence for the faith of Israel and of the early church. (p. 43)

On anti-fundamentalism:

Anti-fundamentalism, though a necessary cause, is in any case a thankless one; for many who are not at all sympathetic to the Christian faith would prefer Christians to the fundamentalists, because that would make it so much easier to reject their religion as absurd.  (p. 2)

– John Barton (Lecturer in OT and Fellow and Chaplain of St. Cross College, Oxford):  People of the Book.  Westminster/John Knox Press, 1988.

Aletheia

This is a brief collection of quotations about truth (Gk:  aletheia) — and particularly about the seeking of it.  I find that I posted quotes from this book nearly five years ago.  I am intentionally repeating two of those here.

The world is not divided between those who have the truth and those who don’t; it is divided between those who are looking for the truth and those who aren’t.

No one can open his mind to the truth without risking the entrance of falsehood; and no one can close his mind to falsehood without risking the exclusion of truth.

Truth is the concern of every sincere, responsible, and honest person. . . .  What we . . . need is the sharing of discovered truth.

All of us who are interested in truth must pool our efforts to dig away the debris that has collected about truth for centuries. 

Keep one thing forever in view – the truth; and if you do this, though it may seem to lead you away from the opinions of man, it will assuredly conduct you to the throne of God.   – Horace Mann, 1796-1859, American educator

[Above quotations taken from Fellowship of Believers:  An Eclectic Approach to Christianity, © 1968 by Leslie Eugene “Gene” Fooks]

 

From the cowardice that shrinks from new truths,

From the laziness that is content with half truths,

From the arrogance that thinks it knows all truth,

O God of Truth, deliver us.

[- Sweet Publishing Co.]

Two responses

Following the slaying of President John F. Kennedy, Jr., the composer/conductor Leonard Bernstein said this:

This will be our reply to violence:
to make music more intensely,
more beautifully,
more devotedly than ever before.

And in the Christian Chronicle of January 2015, Brian Owens of the (predominantly black) Ferguson Heights MO Church of Christ is said to feel “inclined to protest. ”  But his protest won’t involve “waving a ‘hands up, don’t shoot’ sign, staging a ‘die-in’ or chanting ‘I can’t breathe’ during a march.”  Owens told fellow members of the predominantly black Ferguson Heights Church of Christ,

Worship is our protest. . . .  Our response is worship because it is through our worship that people see the glory of God.

The notions expressed by these two men — ideologically and chronically distant from one another — seem to be of the same ilk, don’t they?

Bernstein
Bernstein
Owens
Owens

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Next:  Two (more) historical figures

Two views

p14_owens_0115
Owens
p14_brice_0311
Brice

 

Sometimes, believe it or not, I don’t even feel like offering an opinion or critiquing something.  This time, you decide which opinion related to Ferguson, MO you prefer.

In a sermon, Brian Owens offered, “We are not surprised by the lawlessness of man, the arrogance of politics, the irresponsibility of the media, the dishonesty of religious leaders, the false teaching of self-proclaimed modern prophets or the inability of government to bring justice, fairness, equality and peace to this world. . . .  Our kingdom is not of this world.  We can’t be distracted by things of this world. . . .  It is when we love without hypocrisy that people see the glory of God.”  – Brian Owens, Ferguson Heights MO Church of Christ

~ ~ ~

A scholar named Tanya Brice believes Christians ought to be “active in disrupting a system in which blacks are much more likely than whites to be killed by police.”  Brice said, “Heaven is our real home — that’s what folks said during the institution of slavery. . . .  I think that Christians should be in the streets and at the policy table to effect these changes.  I think we should use the words of the prophets,¹ from our sacred Biblical texts, as support for what we do, as our voice against injustice.”  – Tanya Smith Brice, Dean of Education, Health and Human Services, Benedict College, Columbia SC

Both quotations are taken from the January 2015 Christian Chronicle.

Next:  Two responses


¹ OK, one comment:  Brice’s advice to re-appropriate words spoken millennia ago by God’s prophets manifests her lack of understanding of the situational nature of most prophecy, not to mention her lack of scholarly approach to scripture.

Of authors and life

Recently, in a fit of shelf-reorganization, my gaze and thoughts fell on books.  (Another day, I may tell of CDs.)

I commented to my wife that I would credit only three current-day Christian authors with changing my life.

 

books

The first of these is Rubel Shelly, with his restorationist I Just Want To Be a Christian (1984).  For 15 years or more, my direction was changed; for life, my comprehension of the universal church was altered.  It was, of course, not so much a new direction that Shelly commended to those who would hear and read.  Rather, it was a bona fide (in the truest sense of that term) return to the unity ideals of the American Restoration Movement.  Shelly recently stepped out of his role as president of Rochester College, a relatively progressive Christian college.  He now serves as chancellor and teaches courses in philosophy, ethics, logic, and introduction to Christianity.

The second was Cecil Hook.  Cecil’s Free series included Free in Christ, Free To Speak, Free As Sons, Free To Change, and Free To Accept (1984-1994), all distributed free of charge.  Cecil, who was once a preacher and later simply cleaned the church house to eke out a living, was a remarkable figure for me and for many others in challenge of traditional beliefs and practices.  After I put a few feet forward in offering some proofreading, Cecil regularly invited me into his writing-world by sending drafts of articles.  I had the distinct honor of proofing a couple of his books and portions of others, including the entire manuscript of the 2nd edition of his first book, Free in Christ.  Always an example of grace and kindness, even in his most challenging of challenges, Cecil was fond of closing an article with words like these:  “I will understand if you do not arrive at the same understanding.  But we are still brothers — sons of the same impartial Father” (Free to Change, p. 101).  It bears mention that sometimes the experience of someone else’s life and manner does not harmonize with the power of the same person’s pen.  (Mea culpa.)  In the case of Cecil Hook, I found, through a string of communications over a period of years, and during one visit in his home, that his was the humble, inviting kind of spirit from whom anyone could learn.  The grace this man showed to others was not always shown to him:  I personally witnessed the censure of some watchdogs as they passed my display of Hook’s books at a men’s retreat.  Some years ago, a website with Hook’s writings was corrupted; since I am a bit prone to fear conspiracy, I wondered if the site had been an intentional target of some with malevolent intent.  Cecil Hook is now in the “land of the eternally living” (his words at the passing of his wife Lea a few years before).

The third is Gary Collier, through many writings of both public and private-group nature —not the least of which are his monograph Scripture Canon and Inspiration (2012) and his work on Matthew’s gospel The Forgotten Treasure:  Reading the Bible Like Jesus (1993).  Gary is more energetic than ever these days.  I have quoted him on this blog before and will again.  His voice is singular.  He is a first-rate textual Bible scholar, and a Christian sibling who cares deeply about many, despite the miles between them.  Gary’s online study program Coffee With Paul is innovative, instructional, and peopled by many deeply committed students.  One of Gary’s mantras is “contextual, responsible, and conversational Bible study.”  He also manages a chock-full Bible study resources portal at bibledashboard.com.

These authors’ voices have been positively life-changing for me.  The Shelly and Hook writings served important purposes during a prior period of life in which I was constantly engaged in evaluating and reevaluating the traditions in which I had been raised.  I discovered new courage to open my eyes, heart, and mind, and I continue to believe those men were on target.

At this juncture, there is no author’s voice as significantly formative for me as Gary Collier’s; his insistence on reading scripture devotedly, honestly, and responsibly continues to shape me.

I am grateful for the influence of each of these authorial voices in my life.